Tisei's parents — Ralph, who died in 2000, and Beverly — were never prosecuted criminally, or charged with anything as salacious as running an illegal gambling ring.

But they ran into frequent trouble with banks, customers, business partners, and federal authorities through their real-estate and building-inspection businesses.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) brought a civil case against them for violations of franchising regulations, and won a summary judgment in 1995. The court concluded that they had made deliberate misstatements and withheld important information from franchisees, and that they falsely claimed to have had the company's books audited.

The couple, along with a partner, were "unable or unwilling to take seriously [their] obligation to comply with the law," Judge Nancy Gertner wrote in her decision. Their 10-year-old company "has been in virtually continuous violation . . . since it was established."

The Tiseis paid $30,000 in fines and agreed to certain terms concerning future businesses.

Among the things the Tiseis had failed to disclose to franchisees were previous bankruptcies, and at least a dozen lawsuits and arbitrations involving them and their company.

One of those undisclosed cases put Ralph Tisei in the middle of a substantial scandal — one in which it is hard to say for sure whether he was on the side of the defrauders, or the defrauded.

Ralph Tisei and two partners established a company in 1986 — with Tisei as president — to purchase and resell condominiums in Maine. He took out two loans, totaling more than $1 million.

The deal went bust, and turned out to be dirty: the developers, the broker Tisei contracted with, and a loan officer Tisei dealt with were all convicted of bank fraud.

Ralph Tisei was not prosecuted (his company was sued, unsuccessfully), but he was brought to court by the Bank for Savings in Malden, for defaulting on the loans. The court ruled that Tisei and his two partners had to pay some $800,000.

I asked Richard Tisei whether he believed his father to have been a fraudulent businessman. "I have no knowledge [of that]," he said. He was aware that there was a lot of litigation, which could happen to any businessman. "Otherwise, there was nothing that would lead me to believe that he was dishonest."


These issues were all swirling around Tisei's parents when, in 1993, he and his real-estate company brokered a sale of a house on Main Street in Wakefield, from his parents to his own aide, Brian Cresta (who is now treasurer of Tisei's campaign committee).

The sale could not go through, however, because two different entities had obtained liens against the Tiseis' assets, including that house. One of them, a dissatisfied customer who had won an initial judgment against their home-inspection business, accused Richard Tisei of arranging the sale as part of a deliberate attempt by his parents to hide their assets from those they owed.

The sale certainly looked circumstantially suspicious: Richard Tisei was claiming half-ownership of the house, although he had never paid for any portion of it, and documents going back for years suggested that the house was owned entirely by a trust controlled by the parents.

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